Nemanja Matic is perhaps the definition of an unsung hero in modern football – the sort of player who makes a team tick, with minimum fuss but maximum efficiency.
The Serbia international may share four syllables of his name with a fellow countryman who made a hugely endearing impact at Old Trafford, Nemanja Vidic, but he is a very different type of footballer. Tough, yes, but rather than being an out-and-out warrior like the former centre-back, he’s a world-class holding midfielder who screens the defence and allows other attacking players to flourish.
After starting his senior career with FK Kolubara, a Serbian side based in Lazarevac, Matic really made his mark in Slovakia with Kosice. Chelsea snapped him up in 2009 and he was loaned out to Vitesse Arnhem a year later. Benfica signed Matic on a permanent deal when negotiating the sale of Brazil international David Luiz to Stamford Bridge in January 2011 and, on the advice of manager Jorge Jesus, Nemanja became a successful no.6 following his previous years as a no.10.
That educational spell in Portugal convinced Chelsea to resign their former player in January 2014 and it proved to be a shrewd move, after Matic instantly helped the Blues to win the Premier League title that season.
Two years later Matic claimed his second championship crown under Antonio Conte in 2016/17, playing a vital role in the team alongside N’Golo Kante in the the centre of the park. Although he made 44 appearances that campaign, scoring two goals, including a wonder strike in the FA Cup semi-final, United made a shock move for the Serbian and he was reunited with his former manager Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford in July 2017.
The Serbian was thrown straight into the United side for the UEFA Super Cup tie against Real Madrid and made his Premier League debut for the club on the opening day of the season against West Ham.
Matic was a mainstay of United’s European campaign. He appeared in every Champions League group stage game apart the Red’s final match against CSKA Moscow, when qualification for the last 16 was all but secured. The Serbian featured in both knockout legs against Sevilla.
Matic endeared himself to the United faithful with a stunning stoppage time strike against Crystal Palace to seal a 3-2 comeback for the Reds. The Serbian’s effort won the 2017/18 Goal of the Season at the United Player of the Year awards in what was an impressive debut season.
In the 2018/19 season, the Serbian international remained an integral part of the United midfield, making 38 appearances across all competitions. He scored his only goal of the season with a Boxing Day tap-in from a corner against Huddersfield.
In Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first full season in charge, Matic was unlucky with injuries and did not start a Premier League game before the 28th December. However, in 2020 the big Serbian once again proved his value to United. He started the majority of the remaining matches after the turn of the year and put in impressive performances as a holding midfielder as the Reds finished third in the league.
The Serbian was rewarded with a new three-year deal to keep him at the club until June 2023 and continues to provide a valuable option in the middle of the park, He retired from international duty in August 2020, after making 48 appearances for his country.